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How to Decorate for the Holidays in Dementia Care Communities

When it comes to holiday decorating for dementia communities, the work can be challenging — but it’s more than worth it.

A few years ago, I was asked by a client to help decorate their new building for Christmas. It was a dementia care community, so we had to be very conscious of every decoration we put into the building. Shopping for all these items in retail stores was not easy. I think we hit every Target, Hobby Lobby, Menards, and Walmart within 45 minutes of the building.

Although it took some creative problem-solving, the best part was seeing how excited the residents were. They loved looking at the brightly colored decorations. It even got them to chat about which decorations they liked best! And with super-cute senior living decor trends slated for the 2020 holiday season, chances are you’ll have just as much fun bringing your holiday memory care decorating ideas to life as your residents will have admiring them.

As we enter November — when communities are decorating for ALL of the different holidays — it’s critical to choose your decorations with care. Below we’ll explore a few ways to create a safe, festive and welcoming atmosphere with dementia-friendly decor.

1. Stay Away from Anything that Looks Edible

When it comes to buying and setting up holiday or Christmas decorations for dementia residents, steer clear of glass ornaments or decor that looks like candy. That means no fruit on wreaths and no berries on ANYTHING. And let me tell you, when you need to find greenery without little red berries, you will realize how much greenery is covered in red berries.

2. Be Careful About the Scented Decorations You Use

Going along with the above, stay away from food-scented items that could encourage residents to eat them, such as cinnamon scented pine cones.

3. Stay Away From Wicked Candles

Wicked candles should never be used in dementia care. If you cannot find a good LED candle substitute, you can remove wax candle wicks (pull them out completely through the bottom, do not just cut them down). You want to make sure there is no opportunity if someone comes upon a match to be able to set anything on fire. There are also some really attractive battery-powered menorahs out there so you can still have the ceremony of ‘lighting the candle’ each night.

4. Steer Clear of any Disorienting Decorations

For those with dementia or other cognitive difficulties, unusual or unexpected types of decorations could startle patients. So when choosing dementia holiday decorations, avoid things like:

  • Twinkling decorations

  • Blinking lights

  • Voice-activated decorations

  • Life-size characters

These types of decorations can be frightening for dementia patients, so my recommendation would be to skip them this year.

5. Be Conscientious of Clutter

While it’s tempting to go all-out with holiday decor, when it comes to decorating for residents with dementia it’s important to ensure pathways and gathering areas are kept clear. Remember, a lot of holiday decor includes extra fabric or requires extension cords and other equipment that could increase the risk of falling for residents. Make sure that if you are using extension cords, they’re tucked safely under a rug or taped down.

6. Use Ornaments and Decorations that are Interesting but not Easily Breakable

Faux glass ball ornaments have come a long way, and are hard to tell apart from the real thing! We also love using ornaments made of wood (sanded or painted, no rough edges), cloth, or metal (without sharp points or edges). Additionally, fake floral decor (think: poinsettias, white flowers and more) can go a long way in dressing up dementia care communities for the holidays while keeping residents safe.

7. Use Figurative Decor

Decor with animals or people is always more interesting to residents than orbs and snowflakes. We have often found wood reindeer and penguins for the mantle or felt/fabric animals for the tree. Santas and winter decor with people (ice skaters, carolers, etc) can be interesting to residents.

8. Don't be Precious with Decor

Residents will pick it up and carry it around. They may take to an item and make it their own-that’s ok! Remember, it’s their house, too.

Learn More About Dementia Friendly Decor

When it comes to decorating ideas for a dementia community, the most important part is to ensure everyone in the building — including both colleagues and the residents — enjoys safety and comfort. Use the above dementia-friendly decor tips to create a festive atmosphere the whole community will love.


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